This paper gives an overview of research into the history and use of donkeys in Australia. Although the role that other draught animals played in the opening up and economy of the colony has been recorded, that of the donkey has not been systematically researched before. The first three donkeys arrived in New South Wales in 1793 but they were not greatly used by Europeans to colonise the land in Eastern Australia. They came into wider use with the opening up of Central and Western Australia in the 1860s and were extensively employed until the late 1930s for freight haulage in more inhospitable areas where horse and bullock teams perished. When the motorcar finally took over, the teamsters - the men who drove the teams of donkeys - simply set their donkeys free, as they had no wish to shoot them. Conditions were ideal for the donkeys to prosper in their feral state. They are now classified as vermin and shot in the hundreds of thousands. The paper considers social, economic, environmental and ethical issues associated with the introduction and use of donkeys in Australia and identifies parallels with the more general shift in attitudes towards the Australian environment since colonisation.

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